As Indian hockey faces its biggest challenge in recent years,the hockey fraternity will hope the change of coaches will also bring a change of luck. The Asia Cup,which begins in Ipoh next month doubles up as the World Cup qualifier and presents India’s final shot to assure itself of a berth for next year’s World Cup.
In the last few years,the International Hockey Federation (FIH) has shielded the Indian hockey team from taking the arduous route of playing the qualifiers for a major tournament. Even if they have,they have played at home making it slightly easier. For the first time,India stares at the possibility of missing out on the World Cup. According to the FIH’s qualification scenarios,South Korea and Malaysia have a greater chance to qualify than India and Pakistan.
Germany,Argentina,England,Belgium,Australia,New Zealand and hosts Holland have already qualified for the 12-team event. The remaining five places will be awarded to the continental champions. However,if any of the above-mentioned teams win their continental title,the door will open for those who have finished outside the top three at the recently-concluded World League semifinals. India are the fourth reserve team,behind South Korea,Spain and Malaysia.
Oltmans’ side has to win the title to book a World Cup berth. Failure to do so means that India’s fate is out of its hands. It will take a combination of results from at least three other continental championships (European,Pan-American and Oceanic) to determine if India manage to qualify.
Oltmans,the Dutchman who is in-charge of the team following Michael Nobbs’ resignation,said it was natural for players to feel the pressure. … I am focused at preparing my wards well for the Asia Cup. What I have to look at in these six weeks will be preparation,performance and then results. A good preparation will get you performance,from a good performance comes results and that’s what I have always believed in, Oltmans said..
India is the commercial capital of world hockey besides the Netherlands. Hence,it isn’t surprising the FIH has bent some rules and introduced a few to ensure the country is part of marquee events. After failing to qualify for the Beijing Olympics,the FIH has awarded India the 2010 World Cup,2012 Olympic qualifiers,World League Round 2 as well as the tournament’s final stage and this year’s junior World Cup.
The FIH expanded the field for the Champions Trophy from six to eight last year to accommodate India. India will also get a direct entry to the World League final that will be held in New Delhi in January next year.South Korea would have qualified in India’s place had the tournament taken place in some other country as they finished higher in the semifinal stage.
FIH president Leandro Negre did not hide their commercial interests in India but insisted that wasn’t the only reason to treat the country differently. Of course,India is a big market for us commercially. But this is not just about our commercial and marketing ventures. We want to ensure that the Indian team gains exposure by playing in top tournaments against top teams, Negre told The Indian Express.
Even he is dreading the possibility of India missing out on the World Cup. It would be a shame if India or Pakistan do not qualify. As things stand,only one will qualify and India have a better chance. It’s important for India to be at the World Cup. I hope the team does enough to win the Asia Cup, he said.